The Way Back

2011-05-13 00:18
What it's about:

The true story of a group of prisoners’ escape from a Siberian Gulag and their perilous 4000 mile trek to freedom in India.

What we thought:

The synopsis of the film alone should be more than enough to convince that, if nothing else, The Way Back tells one hell of a story. A story so fantastic, in fact, that it is only the reassurances of its actually being based on a true story that stops the film from looking entirely like the ridiculous, far-fetched concoction of a crazy person. The best thing about The Way Back is that, though it is not without its flaws, it’s a piece of filmmaking that actually does justice to so magnificent a story.

It is a bit on the long side and the nature of the tale being told does mean that it does feel somewhat gruellingly episodic but The Way Back is still a very fine film. Peter Weir is, like Clint Eastwood,  renowned for his humane, sympathetic but unfussy direction on films like The Truman Show, Master and Commander and Dead Poets’ Society and he brings all that to bear on a story that plays exactly to his strengths. He has also gathered around him a very impressive cast of actors, including Jim Sturgess, Mark Strong, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and, continuing his recent streak of excellent performances in excellent roles, Colin Farrell. 

The reason the film works as well as it does, actually has everything to do with these two factors. While Weir is brilliant at capturing the many emotions that the group of escapees experience on their trip – desperation, despair, anger, hope and more besides – as well as the character and climates of the various landscapes they travel across, the terrific cast help him bring to life the real secret to the film's success: its characters.

The film could so easily have been either a pure adventure film or one that ham-fistedly preaches about the human will to live but instead he allows the film to be very much about the characters themselves and the relationships they forge with one another. The result is a journey that is genuinely uplifting and, at times, tough but it achieves this through the natural progression of its stories and its characters rather than through less subtle and ultimately far less effective methods.   

Peter Weir may not be prolific these days but as long as he churns out films as good as The Way Back, I, for one, am more than willing to wait for whatever he does next.

An uplifting take on the gruelling true story of a group of prisoners’ escape from a Siberian Gulag and their perilous 4000 mile trek to freedom in India.
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